Military suicides a growing problem

U.S. veterans are dying by suicide at an alarming pace.

The national veteran suicide rate was almost 30 per 100,000 people in 2015, or about 20 deaths every day, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs . The age-adjusted rate of suicide among veterans increased more than 30 percent from 2005 to 2015, compared to an almost 20 percent increase among the non-veteran population. Female veterans in particular saw a 45 percent spike over that time period.

“Military life is hard for a variety of reasons, including an increased exposure to trauma, frequent moves that disrupt one’s social support networks and prolonged separations due to deployments,” said Carl Castro, associate professor, retired U.S. Army colonel and director for USC’s Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families (CIR).

To address climbing suicide rates among active-duty service members and veterans, the USC Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society (CAIS), in collaboration with USC CIR and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering , will use artificial intelligence to examine engagement on social networks by military personnel to identity risks such as depression and anxiety.

“If we could collect data on people over a period of time, we could look at changes in their social networks to understand when and where and at what moments people become more at risk of suicide,” said Eric Rice , USC CAIS co-founder and associate professor at the MSW@USC.

Researchers will interview 200 to 300 soldiers during their six-month deployments and the next six months at home. They will watch for changes to social networks and engagement with battalion members to identify signs of suicidal thinking and potentially develop new interventions. To hear more from Dr. Rice, listen to Listen.Up.People. , a new podcast from the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, which highlights the topic of suicide as a public health crisis in the first episode.   

How is suicide affecting the veteran population? The MSW@USC, the online Master of Social Work program at USC, answers this and other frequently asked questions about veteran suicide below. Visit the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work Military and Veterans Programs page to learn more about what the school is doing to advance the health and well-being of our nation’s service members, veterans and their families.

How do the veteran suicide rates compare to the national suicide rates?

Suicide Rate Veteran vs Total Population
Suicide Rate Per 100,000 Population Veteran Population Total Population
National Suicide Rate 29.7 17.3
Western Region Suicide Rate 34.6 18.8
Southern Region Suicide Rate 31 18.2
Midwestern Region Suicide Rate 27.4 17.5
Northeastern Region Suicide Rate 22.2 13.3

Northeastern Region: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont.

Midwestern Region: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin.

Southern Region: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia.

Western Region: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming.

What states have the highest veteran suicide rates?

Veteran Suicide Rates by State
State Veteran Suicide Rate per 100,000 Population
Wyoming 52.3
Montana 49.5
Idaho 46.7
Utah 44.1
New Mexico 42.9
Nevada 42.5
Vermont 42.51
Kentucky 41.9
South Dakota 41.2
Arizona 40.4
Alaska 40.3
Arkansas 40.2
Oklahoma 39.4
Missouri 39.3
Maine 39.2
West Virginia 38.8
Colorado 38.7
Oregon 37.2
North Dakota 361
Florida 34.9
Kansas 33.5
Alabama 33.2
Louisiana 32.4
Texas 31.8
Washington 31.1
Tennessee 30.5
Iowa 29.6
Mississippi 29.6
California 28.8
North Carolina 28.7
South Carolina 28.7
Michigan 28
Wisconsin 27.6
Pennsylvania 26.4
Georgia 25.9
New Hampshire 25.9
Ohio 25.7
Indiana 24.5
Virginia 23.5
Illinois 23.2
Rhode Island 22.71
Hawaii 20.5
Minnesota 20.4
Connecticut 20.1
Nebraska 19.7
Maryland 19.3
New Jersey 18.3
New York 18.1
Massachusetts 17.7
Delaware 14.91
1 Rates calculated from less than 20 suicides.Return to first footnote reference

How has the veteran suicide rate changed?

Veteran Suicide Rate by Year
Year Veteran Suicide Rate per 100,000 population
2005 23.8
2006 23.9
2007 25.2
2008 26.9
2009 27.2
2010 27.4
2011 27.6
2012 27.7
2013 28.5
2014 29.7
2015 29.7
Male Veteran Suicide Rate by Year
Year Male Veteran Suicide Rate per 100,000 population
2005 24.9
2006 25.1
2007 26.4
2008 28.2
2009 28.4
2010 28.7
2011 28.9
2012 29.1
2013 29.9
2014 31.1
2015 31.1
Female Veteran Suicide Rate by Year
Year Female Veteran Suicide Rate per 100,000 population
2005 10.1
2006 9.1
2007 9.9
2008 11.3
2009 11.8
2010 12.4
2011 12.8
2012 12.3
2013 12.7
2014 15
2015 15.3

How does veteran suicide differ by gender and age?

Veteran Suicide by Age and Gender
Ages Male Veteran Suicide Rate per 100,000 Female Veteran Suicide Rate per 100,000
18-34 45 13.5
35-54 37.5 18.7
55-74 26.7 14.8
75+ 27.8 N/A

How are veterans of different military eras affected by suicide?

Military Deaths by Suicide by Military Era Served
Military Era Served Percent of Total Military Deaths by Suicide (2005-2015)
Peacetime Veterans 33.1%
Vietnam 29.3%
Gulf War (1990-9/11) 18.6%
Gulf War (post 9/11) 11.3%
Korean conflict 9.3%
WWII 9.1%
Unknown 8.8%

Veterans are counted in every era that they served.

Where can active-duty service members or veterans struggling with suicidal thoughts get help?

Source for all data: Department of Veterans Affairs

Created by the MSW@USC, the online Master of Social Work program at the University of Southern California.

USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work

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